NEW YORK — Greg Hardy’s championship aspirations aren’t merely limited to MMA.
Hardy (3-0 MMA, 0-0 UFC), the controversial former NFL standout who makes his UFC debut in Saturday’s UFC on ESPN+ 1 co-headliner against Allen Crowder, believes he has what it takes to reach the top of the heavyweight mountain inside the octagon.
Although he has just three professional fights, Hardy’s ambitious goals don’t seem entirely implausible. He was a Pro Bowl caliber player in the NFL before he was kept out of the league because of a domestic violence conviction that was later overturned on a technicality. And his athletic talents appear to have transferred quite well to MMA.
There are still many unanswered questions about Hardy, though. Crowder (9-3 MMA, 0-1 UFC) will be his most legitimate opponent to date, and from there the challenges only get tougher. Hardy wants that and is adamant he’s eager to conquer every test placed before him in not just MMA, but the entire combat sports realm.
“Honestly, at this point we’re going to fight, we’re going to look for that UFC heavyweight belt,” Hardy told MMAjunkie on Wednesday. “We’re going to go for the Zuffa Boxing title, the WBC (title). I want to be the great American heavyweight. I want to be the fighting heavyweight of the world. America needs one of those, and I can be that guy for them.”
UFC on ESPN+ 1 takes place at Barclays Center in Brooklyn. Hardy vs. Crowder co-headlines the main card, which streams on ESPN+ following televised prelims on ESPN and early prelims on ESPN+.
Thus far Hardy has done nothing but steamroll his competition inside the cage. His six combined amateur and professional fights have lasted less than 5 minutes, with his longest bout to date going a mere 96 seconds.
Hardy’s record includes two wins on Dana White’s Contender Series in July and August, which served as the framework for his UFC developmental contract and eventually his UFC-exclusive deal. On the surface it looks like Hardy has been fast-tracked, but he insists he’s put in the time to deserve a UFC roster spot.
“A lot of people forget to mention the three (amateur) fights I had,” Hardy said. “I had to travel the country and the circuit just like everyone else. It’s been a total of like six fights, grueling circuits, and just kind of playing my part and knowing my role. It’s helped me appreciate this sport, and I’m appreciative to be here so much more so than I would have.”
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No matter what Hardy is able to accomplish, his troubled past will be a consistent narrative going into each one of his fights. That only has amplified as he shares the card with UFC women’s flyweight Rachael Ostovich, a recent survivor of alleged domestic violence by her MMA fighter husband.
Although he’s never gone into elaborate details regarding his history, Hardy said he understands the situation he’s in and how it must be handled.
“Regardless of who you are and what you do, there’s going to be people that hate you,” Hardy said. “You’re going to have to deal with things. These are just my burdens and my downfalls. It’s what I have to deal with. It doesn’t bother me, and it’s something I want to face head-on.”
Hardy said he does his best not to focus on the past, though, and instead prefers to keep his attention on the present and future. He has lofty goals for his fighting career, and with his UFC debut serving as a “homecoming,” Hardy said he’s ready to perform on fight night.
“I belong here,” Hardy said. “I live for this. I just can’t wait to get in there. This is what I live for. … We haven’t seen much of (Crowder) other than his film and don’t know much about his story, but he’s a UFC guy. This is my UFC opportunity, so it feels great to me. I’m excited to throw that first punch.”
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